Perspectives on the Pandemic

“A Light Shining in the Darkness.”
March 28, 2022
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Perspectives on the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is not yet behind us, but two years after cases were first reported in Angola, many friends of CEML may be wondering how CEML has come through the pandemic until now.

The first cases of COVID-19 in Angola were reported in March 2020. As the country prepared itself for future cases, at CEML Drs. Lena Gamble and Sam Fabiano helped initiate procedures in the hospital to prevent the spread of the virus, including temperature saturation, washing hands, social distancing and wearing masks. Perhaps most importantly, Dr. Gamble set up a triage system for consults to moderate the influx of patients. “It was difficult to limit,” Dr. Maria Kapua remembered, “but we did what we could.”

By September 2020, the Ministry of Health asked CEML to open a COVID ward. Dr. Gamble helped facilitate the creation of isolation wards for patients. Partners of CEML stepped up to assist, with SIM International supplying test kits and the Fístula Fundação supplying PPE. As the vaccine became available, all medical staff at CEML received vaccinations.

CEML’s interns found the experience an interesting one from an educational perspective as they were learning how to treat COVID-19 at the same time as the senior doctors. “It was really a challenge for us,” recalled Dr. Benedito Joaquim, “but it was a very good experience because everyone learned more about the disease.” Dr. Annelise Olson concurs as, indeed, “we were learning alongside the whole entire world.”

By the grace of God, Coronavirus infections in Angola have fallen well below the initial projections of early 2020. The medical reasons for why Angola has fared so well are still being sifted through. Dr. Fabiano credits the adoption of social distancing as a great factor in reducing transmission.

In two years, COVID-19 has been a cause of death for 1,900 persons in Angola. Not to minimize these tragedies, but deaths by malaria in Angola are routinely 5 times as many in a single calendar year. “1 day of the world’s spending on COVID would eclipse what was spent in the last 70 years on malaria,” opined Dr. Steve Foster. Positive progress has been made on malaria vaccines; “if we’re truly interested in the welfare of our neighbor,” Dr. Foster suggested, “then the malaria vaccine ought to be easier to supply. Christians ought to be leading the charge on this, we ought to have the most sensitive conscience, knowing our neighbor is someone we’re liable to forget.”

CEML managed to hold almost the same number of elective surgeries during 2020 and 2021 as in 2019. Which was good because for all the things that changed in the pandemic, motorcycle accidents did not decrease! Some differences were observed; common cold cases went down. Dr. Sandy Yeh noted that Dr. Gamble’s triage system has largely continued: “it keeps people from being piled up in the hallway.”

The pandemic has helped identify some areas in which CEML needs to grow. Isolation wards require portable equipment which can be brought to the patient, rather than removing them from isolation in order to perform tests. CEML’s oxygen system was also heavily depended on during the pandemic; steps are in place to develop a superior supply of oxygen for patients.

“We did okay for the resources we have,” said Dr. Olson. CEML has no ventilators and access to medications is frequently difficult. Blessedly, no CEML staff became seriously ill from Coronavirus. All of the doctors at CEML noted that this was the first pandemic the hospital has had to deal with. That experience “will help with the next one,” said Dr. Olson.

“It was a disease that nobody was prepared for,” said Dr. Joaquim. “Thanks to God that we got through.”

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